Florida lawmakers have approved an expansive bill that could further restrict abortions in the state. The measure in an outgrowth of a larger battle over abortion that flared up this past summer, after several heavily-altered and now discredited videos claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal remains.
Last fall, Florida's Agency for Healthcare Administration accused several clinics of performing what it called “illegal” second trimester abortions. But there was a problem. State rules contained two definitions of the second trimester. Now, Republicans Senator Kelli Stargel, and Representative Colleen Burton have brought a bill that, among other things, revamps the definition of a trimester. The change means those clinics initially cited by the state, would be in violation of the law under the bill.
“And so what are we doing here? We see an attempt to try to realign the trimesters so that it fit into that big mistake that was made for the whole public to see to try to shut down clinics who were abiding by the law as it is," said Sen. Darren Soto. "So we’re now shifting the lines to meet what was attempted to be done erroneously.”
The measure also restricts state funding from going to organizations that also provide elective abortions. Planned Parenthood is the largest of those providers. But Stargel is defending her bill. For her, the issue is personal. Stargel says she was 17 and facing a choice, “I was told I wouldn’t be successful if I had my baby. I was told I be able to do things if I had this baby."
And she says the proposal aligns abortion clinic standards with those for out-patient surgical centers.
“We treat abortion clinics different than those that do liposuction. We treat abortion clinics different than those that do colonoscopies.”
“If your heart has stopped beating, you’re dead. It’s called flat-lining," said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla. He argues the measure protects people who cannot protect themselves.
“I would suggest to you research has shown the heart of that little infant begins beating around the 18-20 day after fertilization. So at any time after that heartbeat begins. If you terminate that heartbeat. That baby is dead. You have killed a living soul.”
Still, as Republican Senator Nancy Detert notes, Florida has brought forward for more than a dozen abortion-related bills in as many years in what she calls ongoing efforts to whittle away at Roe Vs. Wade.
“The whole issue reminds me on the anti-smoking campaign. Just because you took everyone’s ashtray’s away doesn’t mean they quit smoking. The same here. Just because we shut down abortion clinics, or made it more difficult for them to operate, or more expensive, doesn’t mean those people who want an abortion aren’t going to try to go get one.”
Detert was the only Republican to join Democrats in opposing the bill.
In addition to re-defining the length of trimesters, the proposal also requires physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. A similar law passed in Texas is currently being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nearly half of that state’s clinics closed. There is also a court challenge over a similar bill passed in Louisiana.
The Senate voted 25-15 to approve the bill, and after a fast vote again by the Florida House, the measure is going to Governor Rick Scott. The Governor has not indicated whether he’ll sign the bill. If he does, more legal fights could be on the way.
“The ACLU of Florida is currently in court challenging the last restriction on access to abortion care passed by the legislature last year, with the Florida Supreme Court currently reviewing the injunction that stopped that law from going into effect," said Michelle Richardson, ACLU of Florida Director of Public Policy in a statement.
"We will use all of our energies to fight this legislation and other restrictions that violate the legal rights of Florida women to access the care they need and will be examining every possible means to protect Florida women from this dangerous bill.”